There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”
First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.
Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.
What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?
From National Geographic:
The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.
The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.
Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.
If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.
The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.
According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.
“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”
In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.
So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.
Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.
Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.
Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”
Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.
There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.
Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.
And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.
But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.
Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.